A sailboat competing in the annual Lexus Newport Beach to Ensenada Yacht Race was destroyed after it hit the north end of North Coronado Island on April 28, an independent review panel convened by U.S. Sailing has concluded.
The crew of the Redondo Beach-based Aegean—skipper Theo Mavromatis, 49, of Redondo Beach; Kevin Rudolph, 53, of Manhattan Beach; Bill Johnson, 57, of Torrance; and Joe Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla.—died as a result of the incident. Mavromatis, Johnson and Stewart died of blunt-force injuries, but Rudolph drowned, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office. Blunt-force injuries were a contributing factor in Rudolph’s death.
- Complete coverage: Aegean Yacht Crash
"Following extensive research, the panel is confident that a grounding on North Coronado Island is the cause of the accident," the panel said in a news release issued Tuesday morning.
According to US Sailing, the panel spoke with race organizers and the U.S. Coast Guard San Diego Sector's investigative team, as well as investigated data from Mavromatis' handheld Spot GPS tracker.
The Spot data, which was erased from the company’s servers after a week, indicated that the boat was traveling at a bit more than seven knots straight toward Mexico’s North Coronado Island, which is about 8 miles off the coast of Baja California. The last data point transmitted was at the tip of the island at 1:30 a.m. on April 28.
Anna Mavromati—the daughter of Mavromatis, who was known among friends and family as an experienced sailor—told Patch that U.S. Sailing’s conclusions surprised her. She indicated that U.S. Sailing did not contact the families of the deceased during its investigation or before it released its initial findings publicly.
“My family has been in touch with the Coast Guard about their investigation, and they certainly have not confirmed with us that this is the result of their investigation,” Mavromati said. “It’s a bit surprising that U.S. Sailing would go to press so soon with these results before the Coast Guard did.”
Initially, a representative of the Newport Ocean Sailing Association, which puts on the race, told news media that it appeared the Aegean, a 37-foot Hunter 376, was hit by a much larger ship.
Though one television station reported in the days following the incident that U.S. Sailing President Gary Jobson told the station that a witness saw a cargo ship hit the Aegean, that report was never confirmed.
Due to the size of the debris field—approximately two square miles—and the small size of the recovered pieces, race press officer Rich Roberts told Patch that he thought it was unlikely the boat simply hit the rocks.
A fifth Aegean crewman who backed out of the race at the last minute after his mother fell ill, Mike Patton, also disputed the notion that the boat broke up on the rocks.
“Look at the destruction of it all,” Patton told the Associated Press after the Spot tracking data was discovered. “You’re talking about it being squished.”
“I would love to see or hear more about any evidence that U.S. Sailing has gathered in their investigation,” Mavromati told Patch. “What I would hate to see is my father’s death being labeled as something it wasn’t, or for an inconclusive investigation to appear concluded with insufficient evidence. The thought of that happening haunts me every day … The crew deserves better than that.”
U.S. Sailing’s full report on the incident—which will include conclusions, share lessons learned and offer recommendations to prevent future accidents—is expected by the end of July, according to the news release.
The Coast Guard’s investigation into the incident is ongoing.